How did Felix Baumgartner cope with the dangers of altitude?

As Felix Baumgartner made his ascent to 128,000ft, he risked several life-threatening conditions. The atmosphere at the edge of space is so inhospitable that it would be impossible for any human to survive unaided. As he traveled upwards, the oxygen in the upper atmosphere became increasingly sparse and he risked a condition known as hypoxia. His body would have not been able to supply his tissues with enough oxygen and he would have quickly lapsed into unconsciousness.

Pressure also decreases at extreme altitude and, without specialist equipment, Felix could have suffered two other lethal conditions. As the pressure fell, the nitrogen trapped in solution in his body would bubble out, leading to decompression sickness; a condition more commonly known as the bends. However, at 63,000ft, Felix passed through the Armstrong line, a deadly threshold where all the gasses trapped in the body begin to escape. Without protection Felix would have suffered an ebullism as all the fluid in his body boiled.

Teacher Notes

The clip could be used to stimulate a discussion about the effects of altitude on the human body. Using an oxygen-haemoglobin dissociation curve, students could be asked to consider the effect of low concentrations of oxygen and decreasing pressure on the body's ability to uptake oxygen. Students could also be asked to examine some of the physiological responses that the body makes adapting to living in high altitude environments, and why some athletes choose to train in these conditions.

This is the fourth of six clips from ‘The Science of Space Dive’ and this clip could be used in conjunction with the others.

Curriculum Notes

This clip could be relevant to teaching Science at KS3 and KS4 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at National 4/5 or Higher in Scotland.